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The New International, May 1945

International Communists of Germany

Some Questions of Clarification

Scientific Socialism and the Labor Movement


From The New International, Vol. XI No. 4, May 1945, pp. 123–125.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Editor’s Note: The following discussion article answers criticisms directed at the authors of Capitalist Barbarism or Socialism (Supplement to The New International, October 1944).

A French comrade has recently made the assertion:

“The German comrades hold the point of view that the labor movement no longer exists in Europe. On this basis they have, in dealing with the national question, concentrated on the petty bourgeoisie and, so to speak, considered them the heart of the problem. We, on the contrary, have recognized the labor movement as the decisive and living factor, in the first place that section of it influenced by Stalinism. On this basis we orientated ourselves in the direction of the workers and their organizations, in which we saw the main strength. The fundamental difference between us and the Germans exists in these two different estimations.”

The theme given by this assertion is actually of great importance for the entire movement and deserves clarification. We will, however, save the “fundamental” and other differences for a second article and limit ourselves to the following question: What is meant when the Germans speak of the non-existence of the labor movement?

An Old Story

It is naturally not our fault if certain uninformed people do not know our point of view or even refuse to understand that which they have seen in black on white with their own eyes. But the fact remains that we have clearly stated what we mean by the “non-existence” of the labor movement ever since the civil war in Spain, when the last illusions about the Stalinist parties disappeared. What is at stake, therefore, is the resume of an old story or the short, concentrated presentation of a view which has been developed many times in its most varied theoretical and practical aspects.

There is really nothing new in principle in the whole question of the non-existence of the labor movement. The heart of the question consists of nothing else but an insight into the necessity of combining scientific socialism with the labor movement. This insight embraces a problem which was not even “new” at the time Lenin made it the axis of his entire political plan and demonstrated its solution in his bitter struggle against the “Economists.”

Anyone desiring to give his attention to this problem (and there is nothing more important today) must thoroughly study Lenin’s writings of the “Iskra period,” of the year 1908, and of 1920 (“infantile disorders”). He will then begin to recognize, in connection with the present difficulties, the striking similarity which exists between the tasks and situation of the Russian labor movement of that time and the tasks and situation of the world labor movement of today. Above all will he, realize that the so-called organization question is a thoroughly political question and is bound up with a specific plan of action. If he then compares Lenin’s organization and activity plan (one of the most important constituent parts of which deals with the question of the press) with the experiments in all the rest of the world, he will further grasp the deep, the really “fundamental” difference which has also, for example, established itself, between bolshevism and ... the Fourth International. Especially will he definitely note that there is a fixed and extraordinarily important side of political activity, the ignoring of which, in the view of Lenin, makes of all the politics of a working class party a joke, pure phrases, a lie, and – betrayal. If one withdraws from this side of the work (and that is the status of the Fourth) the building of a Bolshevik Party then becomes through this alone fundamentally impossible.

What Was and Is “New”?

The main point of our view on the non-existence of the labor movement is, therefore, the old thesis of the necessity to combine scientific socialism with the labor movement. This thesis itself rests upon the separate existence of the two elements to be united. It states: the politically organized labor movement as the representative of scientific socialism – that is one thing. But a completely different thing, on the other hand, is the elementary, spontaneous, trade unionist or (in a word) bourgeois labor movement in all its forms. More sharply formulated: scientific socialism arises and exists outside of and independent of the labor movement (which is, naturally, something different than arises independent of the proletariat as a social class). Only when both are blended in organic unity does the politically organized labor movement arise as the conscious bearer of scientific socialism.

The beginning of an understanding of the question must, therefore, be made with the resolve to accept the Marxist-Leninist theory in the entire range of its significance: The proletariat is of and by itself (regardless of its unification and training in the process of capitalist production) not able to develop a genuine political or socialist consciousness. This consciousness (systematized as theory) must, rather, be injected into the labor movement from without through the practical-political, theoretical, propagandists, organizational, etc., work of the revolutionary organization.

But the posing of the problem is simultaneously a statement of its permanent character. This means: to unify scientific socialism with the labor movement, to organize, foster and extend this unification, is a task which always exists, independent of the special historical conditions, as long as socialism has not been achieved. No conscious revolutionary is safeguarded against slipping back into bourgeois and, especially, petty bourgeois, conceptions in the course of revolutionary activity. This factor flows from the circumstances that bourgeois influence is just as enormous as the difficulty of overcoming it. It finds a thousand ways (by virtue of the pressure of surroundings) to daily and hourly influence the consciousness of the best and firmest revolutionists – it must, therefore, be daily and hourly controlled and overcome with regard to the revolutionists themselves. On this basis all revolutionary activity can be reduced to this fundamental demand: to tirelessly and stubbornly press back bourgeois influence both without and within one’s own organization. At the same time one must remain aware that bourgeois ideology, on the whole, will only be completely destroyed when socialism has been achieved.

In its essence, the matter of combining scientific socialism with the labor movement is therefore constantly a new task which arises in each concrete situation in a special and concrete way. Conversely, its constant character attests that once the aforesaid combination is established it can also be lost under specific historical conditions. It is exactly at this point that we must search for what is “new” in the objective situation as well as in our conception. We explained:

Given the necessary limitations which are established by the permanent character of the task, the Second and Third Internationals achieved the combination of socialism and the labor movement. This has been historically demonstrated (with the Russian Revolution as its result). But the same consideration shows us today that the Second and Third Internationals have also radically destroyed the same combination and thrown scientific socialism back upon its point of origin. It finds itself in complete isolation from the general labor movement which has just as completely ceased being a politically organized labor movement in the scientific sense. Insofar as it still exists, it is in the whole world totally under bourgeois and not socialist influence. Were it otherwise, the Fourth International would not have the least justification for existence and would have to (as previously: as a fraction in the Comintern) be content with the “reform” and extension of the existing connection. This, dear friends, is the unexpected and completely “new” result of a long development. The objective situation is historically new; the elementary task must be taken hold of anew; in the first place, the very consciousness about these facts is already new.

Consequences for the Fourth International

The above has not yet exhausted what is “new” in our point of view. We naturally do not say in any way that an understanding of the actual situation and the resulting tasks is of itself a guarantee of success. But this much is clear: where an understanding of the task is missing, its solution is per se impossible. It is possible to cite a whole series of historical and other causes to explain the past impotence of the Fourth. Nevertheless the central cause can be just as well sought in its insufficient consciousness. This cause is already decisive by itself because it determines the future of the entire Fourth. It is therefore not a question of why the Fourth remained unsuccessful until now. It is rather a matter of explaining why the decisive prerequisites for such success in the future still are missing. The only explanation that suggests itself is the following:

If scientific socialism is forced to start again “from the beginning,” then the neglect of the consciously proposed task has a grievous result. One no longer risks in the future the danger of losing the connection with the labor movement and sliding back into petty bourgeois utopianism. On the contrary, one is then forced to make the beginning with a petty bourgeois consciousness. No ever so correct “political line,” no ever so proud program, no ever so fervently sworn principles can alter this. The conception of the “proletarian” revolution, the fundamental concept of a “bolshevik” party itself remains as the next consequence petty bourgeois through and through, The entire work assumes, of necessity, once more a thoroughly petty bourgeois and completely utopian character. Utopianism, for its part, is, with all its merits (”good intentions,” idealism) and its weaknesses (helplessness, provincial narrow-mindedness), the arena of petty bourgeois ideology even when in “proletarian” garments.

It should be clearly understood that the program, political analysis, principles, etc., of the Fourth are also correct even when one disputes questions of detail. However, missing consciousness remains responsible for a false fundamental conception (practically: plan of work) and must also inevitably corrupt the Fourth. The main consequence of its past activity therefore exists in that the gap between scientific socialism and the general workers movement has not been bridged, but rather has been disastrously widened. It can only do away with this state of affairs and rid itself of its petty bourgeois character through conscious insight and by making a turn. If it proves itself unable to do this then the history of scientific Socialism will have been enriched by one more futile attempt.

The Reasons

It is simply childish to believe that one can have an “independent” consciousness or one free of class relations. But to believe that a correct consciousness in all relations to bourgeois surroundings is not decisive for the victory of the socialist cause is again and again petty bourgeois utopianism. It is in this circumstance that the colossal and overwhelming significance of the theory is anchored.

It is of extreme importance for a revolutionary organization therefore to also have an understanding of the manner in which correct consciousness comes about. No single individual (even no Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky) can have a correct understanding “in every instance” in all things. Correct consciousness is rather the result of a constantly progressing and changing process, of a consistent and contradictory movement, in which everything is constantly worn out and renewed without ever losing the general relationship. The correct understanding is accordingly never achieved individually but always collectively. To be sure: one must beware above all not to accept those well known caricatures, especially “proletarian” collectivism (cultivated by the Comintern and the SWP), as even being in any way collectivism. Collectivism has, for example, nothing to do with that grotesque concept that articles, resolutions, or theses must be written by twenty persons. Better in this case to adhere to the proverb: Many cooks spoil the broth. On the other hand, any individual can quietly sit down in his office and compose a resolution and (looking upon the few hundred members of “his” organization) imagine that he has on behalf of the collectivity expressed a collective point of view. The very possibility of such an imagination guarantees from the outset only one thing: the fact that the writer in question is an unusually backward, inexperienced, and uneducated element. [1]

“Proletarian” collectivism as such has only a single specific content. It consists in that a number of individuals putting aside their personal interests voluntarily join together in an organization to work on a common basis for a common cause. This organization strives above all to extend itself and its mutual activities to the entire working class and all progressive elements of society until the given objective aim is achieved and thereby every special organization is rendered superfluous. The content of the much misused concept of collectivity is not realized either through the philistine self-deception of certain organization leaders nor through the gathering of twenty untalented writers around the same desk. It is only and solely realized through what is known in Bolshevik language as the “intellectual life” of the party.

Proceeding from the common basis, each individual then carries into the organization. and its work that which he possesses in terms of talent, experience, knowledge, social ties, etc., and also in backwardness, prejudices, false concepts, and inevitable bourgeois notions. A wealth of social ties and the knowledge and experiences that flow from them; an universal intellectual life and the ability to continually cover new spheres in its activity and to assimilate new elements – these are the essential prerequisites for success. The entire process of activity presents itself as continuous attraction and rejection, addition and subtraction, generalization and selection, etc. Real collectivity can, above all, only come about where the party in actuality (and not in mere phrases) and consciously steers toward an all-embracing activity, i.e., is firmly determined not to exclude a single sphere of activity. But that is not yet all, for the question of real collectivity is bound up with the question of genuine understanding. An understanding that neglects any social relations cannot be complete and (coresponding to the objective conditions) cannot be correct.

And here is the decisive point: only when all these insights exist to begin with and determine the entire plan of action do the basic evils disappear from which the Fourth International almost hopelessly ails. We mean the petty bourgeois faith that a handful of, at best, well-meaning dilettantes would be able, with the help of magic formulas, to overcome the colossus of bourgeois society and take over power. Petty bourgeois utopianism and petty bourgeois methods of work with all of its vices are the constant results of this belief (disguised as “faith in victory”). The thing looks quite different when in place of the socialism of the phrase the actual work in all social spheres appears. Nothing, but nothing is then considered secondary or unimportant. [2] The phrases and the shouting about the inevitable victory of the revolution (the SWP has a passionate love for the revolution ... in Europe) disappears. Scrupulousness and seriousness replace bureaucratic dishonesty and evasions. The real task is worked at and actually solved in daily practice in detail (naturally under overwhelmingly enormous difficulties, the overcoming of which precisely is the proletarian revolution). [3]

Proceeding from the point of view here sketched, we had to consider factors in Europe which made important additions necessary. In Russia, Italy, and Germany, especially, scientific Socialism was not only separated from the general labor movement, but there Stalinism and Fascism had also destroyed the general labor movement. In varying degrees German fascism also accomplished this destruction in those countries which it conquered. [4] While hopeless metaphysicians saw the old labor movement as good as “intact” in its activity in the form of the illegal remnants, the disorganized circles, the strikes, and, above all, in the activity of the well-financed agents of Stalinism, we saw the destruction of the old labor movement as the essential factor. We thereupon undertook to establish the qualitative character of the rising resistance movement, for the participation of the workers in it (no matter how large their number) of and by itself established nothing. The matter appeared to us in this manner: the greater the Stalinist “influence,” so much greater the destruction of the general labor movement itself, so much more pressing its re-construction in its primitive form. Out of the total situation we therefore concluded that the resistance movement would be forced to assume the character of a people’s movement and not a “proletarian” movement. This popular character of the movement was then also belatedly recognized by the metaphysicians of the proletarian revolution (including the SWP and Comrade Logan). To be sure, the force of the facts has until now not enabled them to clear up their confusion and move closer to the fundamental tasks.

General Conclusions

Our point of view would not be complete without saying the following:

Nothing is more fatal and destructive in practice than the concept that in dealing with the followers of the Second and Third Internationals we are dealing with a following having “socialist” traditions and training. What is extremely important for our practice is the contrary knowledge, that the “socialist desires” of the masses and the same concept of single individuals changes nothing in the least in the utterly bourgeois character of this tradition.

It is a piece of the worst naiveté to characterize above all those scoundrels who since 1924 have become the decisive element in the Third International as the representatives of a socialist tradition or of a socialist education of masses or individuals. There may be well meaning and confused elements in large number in the Stalinist parties, but no one in those parties can have a “socialist” tradition in the non-bourgeois sense. A Stalinist, and were he a thousand, times a “worker,” is from the standpoint of political consciousness only an exceptionally backward element or – a gangster. Stalinism and other combinations mutually and radically exclude each other. One must treat this disease not only as bourgeois, but as bourgeois in its most perverted form, as something absolutely base and abject. And that which concerns this much-praised tradition itself: it is to such a degree petty bourgeois and omnipotent that it has to a great extent conquered the Fourth international and lead it to its present stage of impotence.

May the French comrade determine, after this, to oppose to a thought out point of view at least a half way thought out point of view.


The International Communists of Germany


1. We do not here think of the American comrade, Warde, who, as an individual, is in no way unintelligent or uneducated. But we would like to say especially to him: An individual can, under certain conditions, write incomparably more correct theses than the head of a presumably “proletarian” organization of 100,000 or more members.

2. Unimportant are basically only those petty bourgeois thoughts on the art and method by which one expounds the views accepted as correct “as such.” It suffices completely for the furtherance of the development that one point of view is sufficiently established. The objections that still emerge can be settled through the “intellectual life” of the party which can only take place through criticisms, examinations, polemics, etc.

3. The petty bourgeois lives with the illusion that he carries the patent solution in his pocket. Classical formulations of the SWP: We have a “bold” program, “firm” cadres, etc. If anything should happen to us, we will “shift” the emphasis. The emphasis dealing with the defense of the European revolution against all its enemies lies ship-shape in drawer No. 2. directly next to the defense of the Soviet Union, to be found in drawer No. 1. Should we be sleepy or in the dark and grab the wrong drawer, it really makes no difference. We have a bold program and can at any time prove that the correct emphasis is to be found in drawer No. 2, directly next ...

4. The same applies today to the nations conquered by Stalin.

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